After weeks of discussion between U.S. House and Senate conferees, the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report has officially passed Congress, and includes a robust Conservation Title that aligns with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) priorities.
“CSF applauds Farm Bill 2018 conferees for recognizing the need for the strong Conservation Title that benefits fish and wildlife resources as well as access for sportsmen and women,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “CSF was proud to be an active partner in ensuring the Farm Bill conservation legacy continues.”
Notable provisions within the Farm Bill include:
- The Conservation Reserve Program will provide contracts for 27 million acres of private land by 2023, allocating around $2 billion annually for farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from their agricultural production in order to improve the land quality.
- The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program will provide $450 million per year (totaling $2.25 billion over five years) for financial assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands.
- The Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP) will include $50 million total to enable state/tribal governments to increase public access to private lands for recreational opportunities and enhance fish/wildlife habitats.
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program will allocate $9.2 billion over five years to allow agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices to improve soil, water, and fish and wildlife habitat.
- Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will provide $300 million annually ($1.5 billion total), the Natural Resources Conservation Service will help producers increase restoration and sustainable use of natural resources by implementing and maintaining conservation projects on select areas.
- The Conservation Stewardship Program will allocate $3.9 billion over five years to help agricultural producers maintain and improve existing conservation systems; with payments increased based on conservation project performance.
“As a life-long avid sportsman and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I was very happy to see a fully-funded conservation title included in the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Congressman Austin Scott (GA), House Vice-Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) and Farm Bill 2018 conferee. “Farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen are dedicated to the conservation of our wildlife and natural resources, and as a Co-Chair of the Sportsmen’s Caucus in the upcoming Congress, I look forward to continuing to find areas where we can advance bipartisan conservation policy.”
The bill also includes a significant investment to address feral hog populations in the U.S. as well as a provision to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires by renewing the insect and disease categorical exclusion and expanding its purpose to allow for expedited reduction of hazardous fuels.
Additionally, the bill includes an important categorical exclusion for restoring and rehabilitating sagebrush habitat for the benefit of sage-grouse and mule deer from duplicative study under National Environmental Policy Act. Earlier this year, CSF signed on to a letter in support of this provision, which was introduced as standalone legislation.
While some important provisions including litigation reform to address forest management were ultimately left out of the conference report, CSF and partners look forward to working with members of the 116th Congress to advance programs that will ensure healthy and well-managed forests for fish and wildlife.
Earlier this year, CSF joined conservation partners and other stakeholders in asking the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to support full reauthorization of the current Conservation Title in the 2018 Farm Bill. Additionally, CSF joined the National Wild Pig Task Force in requesting Conferees address the feral hog problem.
Several of the 2018 Farm Bill conferees were also members of the CSC. Senate CSC Members included: Sen. John Boozman (AR), Sen. Joni Ernst (IA), Sen. Joe Hoeven (ND), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Sen. Pat Roberts (KS), and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI). Twenty-three House conferees were CSC Members including Vice-Chair Rep. Scott.
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